Sunday, October 23, 2011

19th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 25A

19th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 25A
October 23, 2011

Messenger by Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.i

When the lawyer approaches Jesus in today’s gospel, he asks Jesus, “which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus answers him first with the Shema, the cornerstone of Jewish faith, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
“In quoting the Shema, Jesus points out that the aim of the law is to orient one’s entire life toward God. However, one cannot love God without loving what God loves!”ii And what does God love? Everything. Everybody. All of creation. You, and your own unique life.
The question for us this day is How do we do this work? How do we do the work of ‘loving the world;’ how do we do the work of rejoicing, of gratitude? How do we love God whole-lifedly?iii
We love God whole-lifedly through our stewardship. Stewardship is all that I do with all that I have after I say “I believe.” Stewardship is not a season in the church year when the church is trying to make its annual budget. Stewardship is the choices that you make every single day of your lives. It is how you choose to be in this world, how you choose to be in relationship with God. Do the choices you make day in and day out drive you closer to God, or do they drive you away from God? Do your choices bring you closer to God’s people and God’s creation or do they separate you from them? Do you spend your time in this life taking? Or do you spend your time in this life giving, caring, supporting?
Some of these choices involve money and some do not. I had a conversation with my mother not too long ago, where she shared with me the fact that my parents’ decision to become vegetarians was a stewardship issue. They had learned about the miserable existence of most animals who are specifically raised to be food, and they no longer wanted to participate in that system. They had researched about the ways that they could reduce their carbon footprint in this world, to better care for the earth, and so they gave up meat, and they sold their SUV and replaced it with a much smaller, more fuel-efficient car. They are doing this work of conservation and in it they are loving the world and loving their children and grand-children. So the other day, after I had heard my mother talk about this, I was running out the door and went to grab a bottle of water from the fridge, and I stopped. I realized that it would only take a couple of extra minutes to get my aluminum bottle out and fill it with the filtered water from the fridge. Will I save the world with that one bottle of water? No. But in that choice, I chose to be a giver instead of a taker, and I felt more connected with God, the earth, and the people I love because of it.
Last week, I shared with you the fact that Jesus talks about money more than anything else except the kingdom of God. He talks about money more than he talks about heaven and hell combined; 11 of his 39 parables are about money. That should tell us something! There is a direct connection between our money and our relationship with God. I asked you to recall your first memory of money and examine what that memory says about your image of God. I know some of you did this, because you shared your stories with me. Today, I’m going to ask you to do another sort of examination this week. Jesus summed up the spiritual connection with money and the choices that we make in our financial stewardship when he said (in Luke12:34), “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” So I’m going to ask you to do this exercise at some point in the week. Take some time and look at your check-book, online bank statement, and your other financial resources. Just look and see what your checkbook says about where your heart is. Take some time and ask yourself: How do I love through the way I spend my money? Who do I love through the way I spend my money? What does my checkbook show about my relationship with God and others? In the ways that I spend my money, am I loving God whole-lifedly?
Next week is our Consecration Sunday, where we gather to worship and eat together, to celebrate our life together and to make our commitment to what we will give to God through God’s church in the coming year. As you are reflecting on how the choices you make shape your relationship with God, I invite you to pray about how you might grow in your giving and thus grow in your relationship with God. If you don’t normally pledge, then perhaps your step in growth is to pledge this year. If you are pledging, then perhaps your step is to examine what portion of your money you are offering to God and if you feel good about it, that it is an accurate representation of your gratitude for all the good things that come from God. Take the sheet from your bulletin home and see where you fall; look at what percentage you are giving and pray about whether you might be able to grow in your giving. If you show up next Sunday and write a number on the card, that is great! But you have an opportunity now to grow in your relationship with God if you are intentional and prayerful about this process.
I’ve been praying over this whole month about what we are going to write on our card next Sunday. We currently give 10% of my stipend to the church, and it is a spiritual practice for me to write the very first check after I get my paycheck back to God in thanksgiving. Writing that check for me, every other week, is truly a prayer, and I think about all the good things in my life which come from God for which I am grateful as I write it and as I drop it in the plate. When David started working last year, we started giving 10% of his income to different organizations for which we are thankful--organizations which have made a difference (and continue to make a difference) in our lives and in the life of our family, and this also has been a prayer for us. We’ve given to Stewpot and to their capital campaign; we’ve given to MPB, to our alma maters; we’ve give to General Seminary twice, to the Society for the Increase of Ministry (which gave David scholarships during seminary). We’ve given to CES, to the Humane Society. And boy, does it feel good to support these organizations that have supported and formed us! We will continue to do that with the tithe from David’s income, and this year we will be increasing our pledge to St. Peter’s by $50 a month.
‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” How do you do this work? How do you do the work of ‘loving the world;’ how do you do the work of rejoicing,of gratitude? How do you love God whole-lifedly ?
You love God whole-lifedly through your stewardship, through the choices that you make every single day of your lives. It is how you choose to be in this world, how you choose to be in relationship with God. Do the choices you make day in and day out drive you closer to God, or do they drive you away from God? Do your choices bring you closer to God’s people and God’s creation or do they separate you from them? Do you spend your life taking? Or do you spend your life giving and loving?

i. From Thirst. Poems by Mary Oliver. Beacon: Boston, 2006, p 1.
ii. Beach-Verhey, Tim. “Theological Perspective.” Feasting on the Word Year A Vol 4. Westminster: Lousiville, 2011, p214.
iii. This concept of whole-lifedly is attributed to Allen Hilton. “Homiletical Perspective.” Feasting on the Word Year A Vol 4. Westminster: Lousiville, 2011, p215.

Readings for today can be found at

Sunday, October 16, 2011

18th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 24A

18th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 24A
October 16, 2011
A man suffers a serious heart attack and has open heart bypass surgery. He wakes up from the surgery to find himself in the care of nuns at a Catholic Hospital.
As he is recovering, a nun asks him questions regarding how he was going to pay for his treatment. “Do you have health insurance?”
"No,” the man croaks. “No health insurance."
“Do you have any money in the bank?”
"No money in the bank."
"Do you have a relative who could help you?" asks the nun.
"I only have a spinster sister. She is a nun."
The nun bristles. "Nuns are not spinsters! Nuns are married to God."
“Alright, already!” croaks the patient. "Then send the bill to my brother-in-law."
Perhaps not quite what Jesus meant when he said, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
In our gospel reading for the day, two opposing parties have teamed up in an attempt to trap Jesus: the Herodians who support the Roman rule and law and the Pharisees who do not. They approach Jesus with a question which is really a trap, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” There are a couple of issues at work here. The Romans claim that Caesar is the son of god, and they require the Jews to pay their taxes with a special coin that carried the image of the divine Caesar. The Pharisees saw the use of this coin as a violation of the first and the second commandments. So they are trying to catch Jesus between a rock and a hard place; if he says to pay the tax, he is advocating paying tribute to another god, but if he says don’t, then that is treason against Rome. So Jesus answers them with two questions, asking to see the coin used for the tax. Jesus points out that it is the emperor’s image and likeness that is imprinted upon the coin, and he answers their original question by saying, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
Now, we’re Episcopalians, and we aren’t always so comfortable talking about money. But did you know that Jesus talks about money more than anything else except the kingdom of God? He talks about money more than he talks about heaven and hell combined; 11 of his 39 parables are about money. That should tell us something! There is a direct connection between our money and our relationship with God.
I went to a workshop not too long ago, where the speaker asked us each to consider the following question. What is your first memory of money? Think about it for a moment. What is your first memory of money? When I spent some time with that question, I discovered that my first memory of money is of the day that my grandfather took me to the bank to open up a bank account. He had been saving his change (I think it was quarters) that he’d take out of his pants pocket every night to help me buy a piano. I had been taking lessons, but my family didn’t have a piano for me to practice on, and so, on this one particular day, Pop took me down to Citizens Bank in Columbia, and we opened a bank account together. We got one of those little blue bank books they used to use, and it had both of our names on the account. After time and a whole bunch of Pop’s quarters, we were able to buy me a piano. It is a powerful memory for me, about ownership in this process, even though I was just a little child; it taught me about abundance and generosity and gratitude.
After the speaker at that conference asked us what our first memory of money was, he then asked us to think about what that memory says about how we understand God, because the two are intricately connected. Our understanding of money (as shaped by our earliest experiences and memories) tells us a great deal about our understanding of God. How we feel about and deal with money reflects what image we hold of God. I invite you to spend some time with these ideas this week and ponder the question, “What is my image of God?” And talk to someone about your earliest memory about money, at brunch today, at coffee hour, at some point in the week; it is a beautiful and strangely intimate practice to share another person’s memory, and it helps us to understand each other and ourselves on a deeper level.
We become like the God we adore. Like the coin in the gospel imprinted with the emperor’s image, our lives have the potential to become imprinted with the image and likeness of God. Every day of our lives, we make decisions about how we spend our money, our time, our attention, and those decisions either help us grow more deeply into the image and likeness of God or they push us away from that.
What image is imprinted upon you through the God you worship? Is it the image of the living God as manifest in Jesus Christ—the image of compassion, hope, generosity, forgiveness? Or is it the image of the world-- fear, scarcity, despair, and un-forgiveness? What God are you really worshipping in your choices every day?
To God you are worth as much today as you were worth the day that you were born! What will you do with that worth? How do you spend this one precious life which is yours to spend?

The readings for today can be found at

Saturday, October 8, 2011

17th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 23A --The Runaway Bunny edition

17th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 23A
October 9, 2011
Our readings this morning are just chock-full of parties! There’s the party that Aaron and the children of Israel throw while Moses is on sabbatical that results in the construction of the golden calf and Yahweh’s wrath burning hotly against the people. And there’s the wedding banquet that is thrown by the king in honor of his son’s wedding which results in the murder of the kings slaves and the first round of wedding guests and then also results in one of the second string guests getting cast into the outer darkness.
Now, we’re Episcopalians, and we all love a good party. So, my question for you today is who wants to come to this party?
What is the good news in this parable of judgment? A king is determined to throw a party—a wedding banquet for his son. So he makes out a guest list of all the nobles in the land, and when he sends his servants with the invitation, the would-be guests refuse to come, even going so far as to kill the servants. The king acts and wipes them all out, but he is still determined to give this party. So he tells his servants to go gather up everyone, the good and the bad, and invite them to the party. Now these folks he’s inviting, literally gathering up off the streets, do not have appropriate attire so custom dictates that the king provide them with wedding garments that are fitting for the occasion. Everything is going along well, until the king sees one wedding guest who has accepted the invitation but who is unwilling to dress the part (and who won’t even answer the king when he asks him why), so the king has the guest thrown out of the party into the outer darkness.
So, who wants to come to this party?
In her sermon, "Wedding Dress" from the book Home by Another Way, Barbara Brown Taylor writes about this party. I’ve changed her language slightly to make it more appropriate for this place, this party at which we find ourselves today.
“Everyone in Harrison County was invited to be here this morning, but as you can see, some of them had other things to do. Some are on the golf course and some are at work. It just so happens that, for our own good and bad reasons, this is the invitation we decided to accept this morning. But like the underdressed guest, some of us have rolled in here without thinking much about it. We have showed up with our spiritual shirttails hanging out, lining up at the buffet as if no one could see the ways in which we too have refused to change - refusing to surrender our fears and resentments, refusing to share our wealth, refusing to respect the dignity of every human being. These are the old clothes we wear to the king's banquet - the clothes we prefer to the wedding robe of new life.”
So, who really wants to come to this party?
I used to think that our relationship with God is like the children’s book—The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown. There’s this little boy bunny who wakes up one day and arbitrarily tells his mother that he is going to run away; she tells him that she will chase after him, and so he constructs more and more elaborate disguises in an attempt to get away from her, but every time he changes, she changes into something so she can follow him. “I will become a sailboat to sail away from you,” he says, and she responds, “If you become a sailboat and sail away from me, ….I will become the wind and blow you where I want you to go.” Until finally, the mother’s love is so persistent that the little bunny decides to give up and stay at home with his mother. (And she gives him a carrot.)
Our Eucharistic Prayer C (that we will pray together in just a few minutes) says it this way: “From the primal elements you (God) brought forth the human race, and blessed us with memory, reason, and skill. You made us the rulers of creation. But we turned against you, and betrayed your trust; and we turned against one another. [Now here’s the runaway bunny part.] Again and again, you called us to return. Through prophets and sages you revealed your righteous Law. And in the fullness of time you sent your only Son, born of a woman, to fulfill your Law, to open for us the way of freedom and peace.”
It is saying that ultimately, God wins; love wins. And do get me wrong, I still believe that with all my heart. But while I used to be more focused on the ending, how God’s love always wins, now, I’m more interested in the running away-- why we do it and what it does to us. It’s the same reason someone would accept an invitation to a wedding banquet, but not be willing to wear the appropriate garb. Because these days I see, day after day, this running away, in my own life and in your lives too. I see this refusal to put on the wedding garment, which is obedience to God, because our own holey-worn-out clothes of our own wills and desires and priorities are just much more comfortable. It is so much easier and more comfortable to worship a god of our own creating that to worship the living God who holds us accountable for our refusal to give and receive grace.
Gregory of Nyssa, one of the church fathers, says, “Sin happens when we refuse to grow,” and we can spend so much of our energy in running away from God, in refusing to grow, that we make our own lives and the lives of those around us a hell on this earth, a hell of our own choosing.
So, who really wants to come to this party? God’s invitation is there, waiting for us to accept it. But once we get here, we must decide if we are willing to clothe ourselves in the wedding garments, if we are truly ready to put on our party clothes. Another question you might ask yourself this morning besides the one, ‘Do I really want to come this party?” is “what am I clothing myself in these days?” or “How am I allowing God to garb me?”
For the apostle Paul, we are called to put on the garments of rejoicing, of gentleness, of getting along with one another, of prayer and supplication, of the peace of God. We are called to put on the garments of truth, honor, justice, purity, excellence . And we are called to put on the fullness of Christ himself, who has taught us how to be in this world.
The medieval mystic Julian of Norwich says it this way: “Our good Lord is our clothing that for love wraps us up and winds us about, embracing us, beclosing and hanging about us, for tender love.”
So, who really wants to come to this party?

Here's a link to the readings for this Sunday.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

16th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 22A

16th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 22A
October 2, 2011
“On the 11th of September 1522 Sir Thomas More wrote a short letter to his daughter Margaret. Obviously she had asked him to send her some money, and in his reply More wrote, ‘You ask for money, my dear Margaret, with too much bashfulness and timidity, since you are asking from a father who is eager to give…As it is, I send only what you have asked, but would have added more…So the sooner you spend this money well, and the sooner you ask for more, you will be sure of pleasing your father.”i
This morning in our collect of the day, we pray to a God who is “always more ready to hear than we are to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve” and we ask God to pour upon us the abundance of God’s mercy…forgiving us and giving us those good things for which we feel unworthy to ask. It is important to remember this—what we are praying, what we are believing about God this day before we even begin to think about the readings for today.
Let’s start with the gospel. Today we hear Matthew’s version of Jesus’s parable of the wicked tenants, which is the second in a series of three parables that Jesus tells in the temple after he has ridden into Jerusalem in triumph, thrown the money changers out of the temple the day before and come back to teach the next day. These three parables are all set in the context of the chief priests and elders’ question to Jesus: “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
In this second of the three parables, Jesus tells about a landowner who planted a vineyard and then left it in the hands of some tenants and went away to another country. The wicked tenants don’t want to give the landlord the fruits of their labor in the vineyard, so when the landowner sends two different groups of slaves and then his own son, the tenants resort to more and more dramatic acts of rebellion, finally killing the son of the landowner in a ridiculous and unreasonable plan to inherit the vineyard themselves from a landowner who is still living and whose wrath they have now provoked.
In its original setting, the parable holds at its heart the idea of how Israel rejects God. It also may serve us this morning as an invitation to examine how we reject God.
How do we reject God? In the Old Testament reading, we see the people of Israel receiving the 10 commandments. God begins with not a commandment but a deep truth about God’s relationship with Israel out of which all the following laws flow: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other Gods before me.” In a part that is left out of our reading today, God tells the people that they shall not bow down to or worship other idols, “for I the Lord you God am a jealous God…” God is claiming the full affection and demanding full relationship with the children of Israel. And so we reject God (or at the very minimum, we two-time God) when we bow down to worship other idols. We do this when we give our hearts to something that is not of God. We do this when we order our lives and our priorities around something that is not God. When we try to divide our attention with God, we are rejecting God.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians today, we see a glimpse of what has happened to Paul in his conversion, how he goes from pride in his own achievements to gratitude for an utterly gratuitous call to a completely new way of life. In the past, Paul has rejected God when he placed too much pride in his own achievements. And so do we also reject God.
We reject God when we let others tell us who we really are and do not listen to the God who knows us and loves us for our most true selves.
We reject God when we reject other people for reasons of our own; we reject others because they do not fit into our standards of what is good, appropriate and fitting, and when we define others as being less worthy, less human, less valuable than ourselves, then we are rejecting God.
We reject God when we do not value and believe in the goodness in which God has created each of us. We reject God when we cannot believe and trust that we are, in fact, good.
We reject God when we place our trust in the world’s scarcity that says you’ve got to hold onto and fight for what is yours because there is not enough to go around; we reject God when we do not give our hearts to God’s abundance that says, not only is there always enough, but there is radically more than enough—resources, love…-- for everyone.
We reject God when we live too much of our lives and our faith in the sacrifice of the cross—in the “no” and we do not include the surprising gift, the “yes” of the resurrection.
We reject God when we refuse to die to our old selves and are not accepting of God’s gift of renewal and new life.
We reject God when we are not grateful for all the good gifts God so freely gives.
In the book The Parables of Judgment, Robert Capon writes about this parable of Jesus and this phenomenon of how we continue to reject God and to reject God’s grace through Jesus Christ saying, “So it is with me, if I am honest. And so it is with you. The Father’s will for you—his whole will, his entire plan of salvation—is that you believe in Jesus, nothing more. He has already forgiven you, he has already reconciled you, he has already raised you up together with Jesus and made you sit together in heavenly places with him. And better yet, Jesus himself has already pronounced upon you the approving judgment of having done his Father’s will. But if you do not believe him—if you insist on walking up to the bar of judgment on your own faithless feet and arguing a case he has already dismissed—well, you will never hear the blessed silence of his un-condemnation over the infernal racket of your own voice…”ii
This morning, may God who is always more ready to hear than we are to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve inspire our hearts to
Choose God. Choose blessings. Choose abundance.

i. O’Driscoll, Herbert. Prayers for the Breaking of Bread: Meditations on the Collects of the Church Year. Cowley: Cambridge, 1991, p161.
ii. Capon, Robert. The Parables of Judgment. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1989, p110.